Lutheran Church Extension Fund

Elijah: Discouragement Is Common in Church Workers!

Reading time: two minutes. I spend much of my time giving church workers permission to struggle. For some reason, we think this calling will be all sunshine and lollipops, which doesn’t make much sense, considering the way Jesus warned his disciples, the way Elijah collapsed under the broom tree and the way the Psalms are laced throughout with the cries of despair of the Lord’s kingdom workers! So, it’s okay if you’re in the midst of a tough stretch! God is at work in our cross-bearing to work for our good, to build dependence upon his good grace, and to remind us that the victory is always his. We are weak, but he is strong. The Elijah story in 1 Kings 19 is, in my view, mostly permission for you to struggle in your journey of faith, knowing that God is good and with you all the way. 1 Kings 19:4 tells us that Elijah “came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors’.” Ministry is really hard. The prophets knew it; the Lord’s disciples discovered it, and all who follow in their train must eventually come to grips with the fact that a life in ministry can be downright discouraging. If you’re discouraged from time to time, you’re in good company. Every study of clergy burnout over the last eight to ten decades has consistently shown that at any given time, about 20% of pastors are experiencing stress, anxiety, depression or burnout to the degree that it is severely hindering their capacity to serve. If you are in this group of pastors, seek help immediately. Concordia Plan members should call the EAP number on their insurance card right now 1-866-726-5267. Tell the person who answers that you need a referral for assistance. I mean it. The studies also show that another 20% are showing the signs of moving onto the severely distressed zone. If you are concerned you might be in that group, seek the help you deserve right away. It’s too crowded under the broom tree already. If you’re doing well in ministry, with the vitality and joy that fuel continued ministry, beware that you are always in danger. Research with retired pastors shows that over 90% report that at least once during their ministry years, and usually far more often, they endured a very discouraging time in ministry. Wives of retired pastors report the same thing. God visited Elijah with the help he needed, and he is ready to provide for you also. Seek out the help you need from a trusted peer, your ecclesiastical supervisor or a counselor right away for your benefit, for your family’s benefit and for the sake of those you serve who need you at your best (see oxygen mask speech on airliner!) Getting help is part of the journey that makes you a better minister. Richard Rohr said, “All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it to those around us.” Well said. You’re in my prayers every day. Next week we’ll look at the healing power of naps. Do you serve on a professional church worker conference planning committee?  Our staff has vast experience leading groups of all sizes from every church work background through innovative wellness programs custom designed to meet your needs.  Contact Program Director Darrell Zimmerman today to begin exploring the possibilities or visit our website to see some of our ideas for your conference!